Did you know 65 percent of American adults are overweight? The obesity epidemic is one that has stirred dialogue and created concern with respect to its risk factors, its consequences, and the things that can be done to prevent and/or manage it. Living an active lifestyle can make all the difference in not just managing weight, but overall mental health.
Leading an active life does not necessarily imply long hours of heavy exercise that leave your body feeling limp. It can be as simple as taking a stroll with your family. Walking to the coffee shop a few blocks down the road. Riding your bike to work. An important factor in people’s motivation be to active is the surrounding environment. It is understandable why the outdoors can make activity more appealing. Humans have an innate need to be connected with nature. In fact, spending time in nature comes with many benefits that extend beyond physical health benefits:
- Exercise: First and foremost, getting out and doing things will put your body to work. Although you may not consciously be exercising, you’re putting your body in motion – making it perform tasks and requiring energy that would otherwise be stored as fat if not burned. Thirty minutes of speed-walking 5 days a week is enough to reduce health risk factors. Turning these actions into habits can help reduce the risk of diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, atherosclerosis, and stroke, among many others.
- Vitamin D: Although an overexposure to sunlight (a major source of Vitamin D) can result in sunburn and later the development of Melanoma and other kinds of skin cancers, moderate exposure to the sun is actually necessary. In fact, conditions like bone pain, high blood pressure and depression can develop without it. By exposing your skin to sunlight, you are allowing your body to generate Vitamin D, which is necessary for bone strengthening and development. In moderate doses, it can also help reduce symptoms of diseases like different types of cancer, multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
- Enhanced Concentration: In our busy, tech-driven world, external stimuli are constantly competing for our attention. Natural environments do not require this kind of directed attention, which gives the mind a chance to restore itself. Not only does nature help us concentrate our attention, but it also promotes positive emotions, giving us a sense of accomplishment, productiveness, and contentment.
- Stress Reduction: Walking in natural settings decreases cortisol levels, cortisol being the stress hormone. People with chronic stress may develop, as a result of an overabundance of cortisol, problems with anxiety, depression, sleep and metabolic issues. It is therefore evident that if municipalities were to set up green spaces, then quality of life would generally increase due to this method of coping with stress.
- Mental Health: City planners and urban designers are growing in their awareness of creating green spaces in their cities. In addition to the fact that green spaces can create an atmosphere of calm and inspiration, contact with nature has also been found to decrease levels of anxiety, depression, and improve cognitive functioning in people with dementia, Alzheimer’s and attention disorders. But it doesn’t stop there, green spaces also promote more connected, engaging communities. When people have safe, inspirational places to interact, the community benefits too.
So, put yourself out there. Get your body working. Venture out into nature. It’s good for your body. It’s good for your mind.